Put on your dancing shoes, !!! (chk chk chk) are back with a brand new record. Their fourth album, titled “Strange Weather, Isn’t It?” comes after a particularly difficult period for the band. While working on this new album in late 2009, drummer Jerry Fuchs was killed after accidentally falling down an elevator shaft. It’s the sort of tragedy that can make or break some bands, and with !!!’s upbeat dance party vibe, you could understand how they might not feel like busting a move. Not just that, but most dance rock bands have trouble surviving beyond a couple albums, often falling prey to the changing tides of public opinion or simply the difficulties of maintaining the same energy and quality over an extended period of time. That !!! continues to survive and in some ways thrive is a testament to the collective’s strength and talents. Turns out that they are, as one of their new song titles suggests, “Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks”.
A steady mood also seems to be !!!’s plan when it comes to “Strange Weather, Isn’t It?”. The album’s 9 tracks skate by in a mere 40 minutes, but they all blend effortlessly into one another like some long DJ mix. That both works to the band’s advantage and disadvantage. Being able to string these songs together as one cohesive whole makes all of them better than they are individually. You’re in firm lockstep from start to finish and there’s a consistency there keeping you engaged. Yet no matter how enjoyable the album might be as a whole, it’s also lacking in memorability and true standout moments. Things appear to be going extremely well right from the start of the record, with single “AM/FM” and “The Most Certain Sure” taking you for a fun little adventure with dance floor melodies that hit harder than a lot of what was on !!!’s last album “Myth Takes”. Similarly, the 1-2 punch of “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass” and “Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks” hit the groove sweet spots thanks to some funky bass on one (try to guess which) and a jazzy saxophone on the other. Where the record really falters is towards the end with the triple combo of “Hollow”, “Jump Back” and “Even Judas Gave Jesus A Kiss”. Those first two are unfortunately some of the most boring tracks !!! have ever put out. “Hollow” is a sparse drum and bass cut that never moves beyond the turgid tempo it starts off with. It ultimately comes off just like its title. So does “Jump Back”, which has a decent energy to it but doesn’t have the hooks or just general creativity to take it beyond a below average dance cut. What “Even Judas Gave Jesus A Kiss” does is miss out on the chance to move beyond the mid-tempo groove it settles into. Basically it hits the mark it’s looking for and stays there for the duration, which is creatively stifling and ultimately disappointing. Rescuing the end of the record from simply descending into mediocrity is “The Hammer”, a rave-up into a breakdown that’s one of the most fun tracks on the entire album. It’s deliriously great, and makes you wonder why they didn’t put more tracks like it on the record.
If you’ve been following !!! for awhile now, “Strange Weather, Isn’t It?” should come as something of a comfort food provided you liked the band’s 2004 album “Louden Up Now”. Sonically they’re two similar records, even if this new one doesn’t quite match the days of old. It’s the difference between a more guitar-heavy and expedient approach vs. cooler electro grooves and extended freak outs. While there aren’t any songs as long or brilliant as “Me and Giuliani Down By the School Yard (A True Story)”, the new album still has its highlights – pretty much the entire first half, save for maybe “Wannagain Wannagain”. Nic Offer continues his vocal schtick and for the first time Shannon Funchess takes a few choruses and such, as she’s been functioning as the replacement for John Pugh since 2007. If you’ve loved !!! in the past, there’s more to continue loving about them on “Strange Weather, Isn’t It?”. In terms of where this ranks amid the band’s catalogue, it’s not their worst record but it comes somewhat close. There’s just too many so-so songs to make it completely worth your while. If you’re going the download route though, you can save a couple bucks by just buying the handful of great songs and skipping the rest. If the album as a whole is largely forgettable anyways, all you’re going to need are the tracks that actually do have solid hooks.